While many believe that Raja Ampat is only worth diving certain months of the year, because of false advertising and information about the region. This poor promotion is to benefit resorts and liveaboards, who only operate in the area at certain times of the year. SO to set the record straight, there is incredible diving year-round in the area.
While it is true that the manta ray season, which starts in late November until early April, is the most popular time to visit Raja Ampat, the rest of the months offer some of the most breath-taking diving the region has to offer. The shifting wind direction and migration patterns of marine animals in the region treat divers to great visibility and shark sightings that are unique to the area.
During my visit to Raja Ampat, and my stay with Meridian Adventure DIVE, during the quiet season I was treated to some of the best diving I have ever experienced. While I was able to avoid the mass tourism of the manta season, where popular dive sites are overcrowded with divers, I was also treated to diving sites that are not on the lists of “must dives” of the region and at no point was I disappointed.
The reefs of Raja Ampat are home to the black tip, white tip and grey reef sharks. The rich ecosystem of the area makes it the ideal hunting ground for these predators, who can be seen patrolling almost every single reef that I dived. While common to spot these sharks gently gliding over the reef, or sleeping on a shelf in the case of the white tip, there is also the chance to spot, the much rarer, silky and silvertip sharks making their way elegantly over the reef. Reef sharks are in abundance in the area and are even known to gently swim in shallow beach waters in the Wayag area, where divers can snorkel with them. Diving with them is perfectly safe, but, as with any other apex predator, it is important to respect these sharks and not antagonise them.
Raja Ampat is also famous for the chance to see the Tasselled Wobbegong. These carpet sharks can be found in the shallow reefs of the area, most often found spending their time in overhangs or under large coral formations. My dive guides clearly had the best time signalling me that they have spotted one of these unique looking sharks lurking on the reef. They use the tips of their tails to simulate the movement of small reef fish that attracts schools of similar fish to congregate around. This attracts the attention of larger fish and this is when the opportunistic shark strikes from its hiding place. For those fortunate enough, it is possible to spot the wobbegong gliding over the reef looking similar to a scene out of an Aladdin movie. Keep an eye out for these sharks during night dives, as they are known to be more active when the sun goes down.
While the larger shark species are what most divers seek out, and also are the most common to see, Raja Ampat is also home to another member of the carpet shark family, the epaulette shark. This long-tailed carpet shark is found in shallow waters or reefs and is nocturnal like many other shark species. This shark is perhaps the most interesting and unique of them all, as what makes them truly unique is their ability to survive and move on dry land, earning them their alternative name, the walking shark. These sharks have developed the ability to survive in hypoxic conditions for a few hours and even use this as a defence from predators by swimming into tidal pools during the high tide, then waiting for the tide to drop. This gives them the perfect opportunity to hunt in these tidal pools free from the danger of being hunted. The walking shark uses its long tail and pectoral fins to lift itself off the ground to move, giving the impression that it is walking over the reef when in fact it is more of a flopping movement. Despite being less than graceful it is a great experience to see these sharks on dryland.
Raja Ampat is a place of hidden wonders, and for shark lovers, it’s a “must visit” dive area. Although larger shark species like the bull and tiger shark are absent, the unique species of the area make for a much more interesting and unique shark encounter experience.